Protecting protectors

April 26, 2020

Why indeed is this frontline government agency relegated to the backburner over the decades that new and emerging infections and diseases were claiming countless lives?

Budgetary, manpower, and logistical support for the agency o er the years were hardly given priority.

And now that the country is still digging in and staying deep in the trenches as the viral onslaught runs its deadly course, the agency is expected to wage the main battle.

Quite unfair for its officials, staff, and personnel who are mightility doing their best to maximize available resources in eh fight against the viral onslaught.

And we have to fully agree with and srongly support a very discerning lady lawmaker in coming to the rescue of the agency.        

"Thirty-nine years ago, the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine was tasked to protect the Filipino people from infectious diseases. The least we can do is to protect our RITM and other health workers from dying from infections," Sen. Imee Marcos said.

Marcos issued the statement on the "depressing" founding anniversary of what was supposed to be the country's prime biomedical research center to control communicable diseases.

Forty-three RITM personnel have been infected with COVID-19, causing a backlog in testing thousands of specimens from suspected cases of infection, just days before President Duterte decides to lift or continue an already extended lockdown on April 30.

The RITM personnel who have fallen ill are among 1,062 doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who, as of today, make up almost 16% of the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.

These alarming statistics have led the World Health Organization to call the Philippines an "outlier" in the Western Pacific region, which comprises 37 countries where the regional average is only 2% to 3% of confirmed cases.

"The long neglect of RITM dates back more than 30 years ago when the Cory administration started treating it like a leper, just because it was built by my father, then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, through Executive Order No. 674 in 1981," Marcos said.

"The technical cooperation with the Japanese government that helped build and equip the RITM as the country's prime biomedical research center was pushed aside, erasing its importance in the public mind, and squandering the momentum which could have benefitted us today," she  added.

The lawmaker has filed Senate Bill 1407 to rescue what is arguably the Department of Health’s  most neglected agency from its decrepit state, increase its qualified personnel and their salaries, expand its presence to key population centers outside Metro Manila, and revive its ability to effectively handle the magnitude of future pandemics.

"The RITM's mother agency, the DoH, has failed to learn the lessons of history," Marcos said, citing the slew of pandemics that have already hit the country: acute immunodefficiency syndrome , severe acute respiratory syndrome, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and now the coronavirus disease 2019.

Had the RITM been better equipped to have a more proactive role in public health, the prevailing anxiety caused by the DoH's lack of transparency about mass testing and even the supply of personal protective equipment  and medical supplies would not be happening, Marcos added.

The DoH on Saturday reported 102 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 7,294.

The agency also reported 30 new recoveries and 17 new deaths. As of April 25, there are 792 recoveries and 494 Covid-related deaths.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at least 1,101 healthcare workers have been diagnosed with the disease-- 434 doctors, 400 nurses, 55 nursing assistants, 32 medical technologists, and 21 radiologic technologists.

Of this number, 26 have died including 20 physicians and six nurses.

In a virtual briefing, Vergeire sent the country's condolences to the bereaved families of those who passed away due to the respiratory disease.

Currently, the country continues to strengthen its testing capacity. There are a total of 18 laboratories in the country licensed to test people for Covid-19.

As of this writing, Vergeire said 72,794 persons have been tested.